Road Cycling opportunities are seemingly endless in both Salt Lake City and Park City. But there are obvious complications that a big city has on bike routes, compared to a smaller town in the mountains. Regardless, for the hardcore riders, or the casual cyclists, there are perfect opportunities to be found in either place! But one of these places seems to fit most riders much better.
People that live in Salt Lake City believe that Park City is just another suburb of Salt Lake. The locals that live in Park City know that’s simply not true. And so it goes, the endless debate (and rivalry) on which town/city is better to live in. Either Park City, where the mountains are at your fingertips because you live in the mountains, or Salt Lake City that sits right at the foot of the beautiful Wasatch Front Mountains. And through this series of posts, I hope to help those that are looking to move out west to Utah, on which place they will find the best outdoor adventures. Spoiler alert, no matter which place you choose, I can all but guarantee you won’t regret it! I moved out to Utah in 2018, first lived in downtown Salt Lake City, then moved up to Park City, where I have been ever since.
For the purpose of this debate, I am associating Big Cottonwood Canyon, Little Cottonwood Canyon, and Millcreek Canyon as a part of Salt Lake City (since everyone else does).
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake has some great access to road cycling routes, despite being a major city. At the same time, this city runs into the same problem that all cities have, traffic, cars, lack of bike lanes, and ultimately, traffic lights. The further you can escape the dense portions of the city, the better the riding gets. Traveling North/South, you can find longer stretches of roads with minimal traffic lights. The Jordan River Trail is over 40 miles long, but has tons of walkers and runners to deal with. Getting up on roads like Wasatch Drive will be your best bet for uninterrupted city riding, with views of both the sprawl below and the mountains above.
The real road cycling exists up in the canyons. Every night of the year, it seems, you’ll find riders heading up Emigration Canyon, starting from the Hogle Zoo, where they climb 1,500 feet over 9 miles on wide road shoulder, up to Little Mountain Summit. Followed by a fantastic, full open descent back to the city. Since this road is normally a detour, it’s usually empty and perfect for riding.
Just like Emigration Canyon, you can really push yourself, and your bike, up Millcreek, Big Cottonwood, and Little Cottonwood Canyons. Millcreek climbs 2,500 vertical feet in 9 miles, Big Cottonwood Canyon climbs 3,600 vertical feet in 13.6 miles, and lastly, Little Cottonwood Canyon climbs 3,100 feet in just under 8 miles. None of these roads really have wide enough shoulders to be dedicate bike lanes, so you’ll always have to be weary of car traffic going up and down the winding roads. Luckily, the descents are steep enough to easily allow you to keep up with the traffic, so less to worry about there. For a detailed explanation of all the best rides in SLC, check out visitsaltlake.com.
Overall, of course you can get out to ride as much as you want in Salt Lake City. You just have to deal with the normal amount of traffic and stop & go riding that you would in most cities. The true gem of this area is being able to ride up seemingly endless hills to the top of the canyons in some of the most magical mountains in the world!
Unlike the endless mountain biking opportunities in town, the opposite is true for road cycling opportunities, for the simple fact that there aren’t that many roads. The town sits in the valley behind the Wasatch Back and the hills that surround it on the opposite side. In this valley, you can make a 15 mile loop, connecting the county roads 224, 248, and 189, and only climb about 600 vertical feet. The best part about the riding here, is in that 15 miles, you’ll only hit about 6 lights when you’re close to town.
Just like in Salt Lake, there are a few classic climbs from town to test your endurance on your bike. You can head up the 1,000 vertical feet in only 3 miles to the top of the Olympic Park. On the opposite side, head up through Bear Hollow 800 vertical feet in only 2 miles. But the true test of strength and endurance is riding from town, up to Guardsman Pass, which is nearly 3,000 vertical feet in only 8 miles.
Beyond the climbs and loops in town, there are endless country roads to exit Park City on and ride for hours, if not days. For example, you can ride all the way from town, out to Oakley and Kamas, and then loop all the way back to town, hitting a total of 1-3 lights the entire day. You’ll ride through the hills, along the valleys, and past countless farms, ranches, and livestock pastures. And I can’t forget, for those with burly tires, or a gravel bike, you can ride the 25 mile Rail Trail from town all the way out to Echo Reservoir in Coalville! These roads are so good for road cycling that even the Tour of Utah passes through them for not just one stage, but up to 3 stages on any given year!
Overall, if you’re looking for uninterrupted Sunday (or post-work) rides, Park City will have be a dream. The mountains and terrain ultimately dictate where the roads are and how far they go. The reasons why this town is amazing for mountain sports, tends to leave the road cycling as a secondary thought, but that’s only for those who lack the imagination of linking up the endless country roads that surround town and even weave their way through it.
Winner Is: Park City
For 90% of the cyclists out there, Park City is the best place to ride, home to both long roads with little traffic, as well as steep climbs in the mountains. Of course, Salt Lake has some of the best road climbs in the state, but you’re always battling traffic on small shoulders which aren’t the safest.
Hi there, my name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.